All Fruits and Vegetables Harvested by Foreign Hands
By Cory Lunde, Western Growers Assoc. Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communications
Recently, Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif detailed the critical labor shortages facing American agriculture and laid out the case for agricultural immigration reform before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.
In his testimony, Nassif stated that experienced workers are aging out of the agricultural workforce, with few Americans lining up to take their place, despite wages well above state and federal minimums. Farmers in all sectors of U.S. agriculture, especially in the labor-intensive fruit and vegetable industries, are experiencing chronic labor shortages, which have been exacerbated by recent interior immigration enforcement and tighter border security policies.
As a result of the uncertain agricultural labor market, Nassif explained, many American farmers are either shifting toward more mechanized crops or moving their operations to other countries.
“The simple fact is this,” Nassif said, “fruits and vegetables that are eaten in the United States will be harvested by foreign hands.”
He continued: “The simple question for you, as members of Congress, is do you want those foreign hands harvesting your fruits and vegetables to be on farms here in the United States or do you want to see production continue to shift to farms in foreign countries?”
After touching on the existing, flawed H-2A agricultural guest worker program, rife with burdensome regulatory red tape, Nassif outlined a two-pronged proposal for agricultural immigration reform that jointly provides a pathway to legalization for existing farmworkers and their immediate families and creates a more flexible, efficient and market-based agricultural worker visa program to ensure a sufficient future flow of labor.
Nassif concluded that while “immigration can be among the most divisive and difficult to resolve in Washington,” this issue is decidedly non-partisan, as agricultural immigration reform is really about securing the future of American agriculture and, by extension, long-term U.S. food security.
Western Growers appreciates the efforts of Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren and Ranking Member Ken Buck to elevate the dialogue around this vital issue, and we look forward to working across the aisle to advance bipartisan legislation that provides our country and farmers with a legal, stable and reliable source of agricultural labor.
Mexico Has a Responsibility Regarding Immigration, Expert Says
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
With immigration becoming a hot-button issue within the political arena, those in agriculture have a deeper insight into this controversial topic. Arnoldo Torres, of the National Institute for Latino Policies out of Sacramento and partner with the public policy consulting firm Torres & Torres, has long been a leading voice for immigration within the ag sector—while realizing both countries (America and Mexico) need to do their part.
“Mexico has a responsibility to its people. The Central American countries have a responsibility. We’ve got to make sure that those countries are doing what they have to do to keep people from having to go elsewhere to make a living and to live,” Torres explained.
He knows this from personal experience, when his grandfather made a move to America from Mexico, with no opportunity to go back.
“They realized that if they had gone back, there was never going to be a life for them back home,” he said.
Torres further added that the desire for immigrant workers purely correlates with their unique work ethic.
“There’s that saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Well, necessity is the mother of work. I mean, we work to address a necessity.”
Congress Will Not and Cannot Do it Alone, Radanovich Says
By Hannah Young, Associate Editor
The future does not seem bright for California farmers who are desperately searching for labors to harvest crops. California Ag Today spoke with George Radanovich, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association and former U.S Congressman, about the need for immigration reform.
Radanovich spent 16 years in Washington, D.C, and from his experience is not convinced that Congress alone will make immigration reform right for California farmers.
“I think that we need to get to President Trump and suggest that he intervene by direct talks with Mexico and create a system that will not leave our farmers high and dry,” Radanovich said.
In order to assure that farmers have enough labor for harvest, immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country as long as they are working during the time the government is implementing a new system, affirming border control, and e-verifying immigrants, Radanovich explained.
However, getting a system of this type will be tough to get past Congress due to a large portion feeling that every farmer worker is probably illegal and needs to go back to Mexico or any other foreign country.
“They don’t get it because they don’t live here, most of them, so they don’t understand how the system works,” Radanovich concluded.
Pick Justice’s Jesse Rojas and Gerawan Employees Will Never Give Up
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
For nearly five full years, Gerawan Farming Inc. employees have fought a legal battle for the State of California to count their votes cast in the November 2013 election to decertify the United Farm Workers (UFW) as their bargaining representative. According to Jesse Rojas, a farm worker rights activist and spokesperson for Pick Justice, “Anything the UFW does, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is right next to them; and anything the ALRB does, the UFW is right next to them. They are one single entity for the most part; they are a partnership.”
Rojas said the ALRB and UFW filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court this week of the Fifth District Court of Appeal decision to count the votes. “We would not be surprised if the state Supreme Court accepts the appeal because Governor Brown appointees and friendly judges would always be likely to take the case,” said Rojas.
“This is where the UFW and the ALRB have failed to mention to the public the fact that we are just asking for the votes to be counted,” Rojas explained. “We are not saying, ‘Certify the results.’ We are not saying, ‘Once you open them and count them, let that be the final choice.’”
“We are saying, ‘You can still litigate it,’” Rojas continued. “‘You can still appeal it. You can still destroy [the ballots] if you want but count them. So why are you so afraid to simply count them?’”
‘This is the perfect question for the UFW, the ALRB, and our California legislators: Why are you so afraid? Employees deserve to know what the choice was, even if you choose to destroy [the ballots] afterward,” Rojas said.
Rojas explained how Governor Brown appointed people to the ALRB who are UFW sympathizers or people who have worked for the UFW.
“It is not only corrupt, it is also very sad and unfair to see over the last years how many companies and jobs have been lost. How many employees and families have been affected? I am not talking just about Gerawan Farming Inc. workers. We can go on and on in McFarland, Delano, Bakersfield, Salinas and Santa Maria for similar examples of how the ALRB has failed to protect farm workers.”
“Launching Pick Justice was great because it started with thousands of Gerawan farm employees who have been very courageous and have not given up,” Rojas explained. “Pick Justice expanded when other workers started reaching out to us from different companies, perhaps dealing with different issues. For example, we have a lot of workers from the Monterey and Salinas area that have been under a UFW contract for decades, but the UFW fails to protect them.”
“The UFW neglects its members by not reporting certain things to them, by segregating those employees who are unhappy with [the UFW] as well as keeping them away from information or meetings,” Rojas said. “Also, by being on the side of the employer—whatever the employer wants to force upon the workers, even if it’s not in their best interests—and forcing it down their throats.”
“After I reached out to Silvia Lopez, we started to meet over the following months. Many of the workers reached out to me. I have spoken to them on my phone. I’ve gone to their houses. I know their spouses. I know their children. I’ve eaten with them, and that’s where I became even more passionate. I said, ‘Look, you guys are the face of this. Your courage is what makes this effort great over so many years; you just don’t give up. You know what you want, and you know what is right.’ ”
“All I have to do,” Rojas continued, “is help you with communication media using techniques that I know, which is so simple. Social media, digital marketing, things that I grew up with and that I’m very good at. Pick Justice is not about me; it’s about them. If they weren’t still fighting, if they weren’t as strong and courageous as they are, we would not have Pick Justice today.”
“In this fight, we’ve gone up against almost all odds. We are going against the state government. We are going against a three- to four-decade-old system, with views, opinions, and decades-long teachings of the UFW and its leaders—its idols, per se—who have parks, schools, and streets named after them.”
“We’ve been attacked, and we continue to be attacked. But we know what we’re doing is right, and we have the numbers. If I didn’t have thousands of workers standing behind me, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Rojas said the Gerawan farm workers absolutely knew if they kept fighting, they would be vindicated.
“They did not give up; they are so motivated. And now, we’re in a waiting game for the most of accounting, but the stakes are high.”
“Think about Silvia Lopez,” he said. “You don’t think she’s going to be attacked by the UFW after attending Ivanka Trump’s recent Central Valley event? You don’t think I’m going to be attacked? I’ll give you an example. When Silvia met Tim Donnelly, a 2014 gubernatorial candidate who cared about her story, the UFW circulated a flyer of that picture and called her a racist towards all employees. Why? Because she’s searching for help for farm workers.”
“The UFW is weak; they represent less than one percent of the farm workers. California has an estimated average of 800,000 farm workers in the state—could be more, could be less,” Rojas said. “Current UFW membership fluctuates around 5,000 active members—less than one percent of farm workers. So for them to continue to be quoted as ‘the champions for farm workers and for Latino workers’ is absolutely wrong.”
“Specifically, their words and their actions do not go with one another,” he continued, “including their stance on immigration. If people simply looked up some of the legislation opposed by the UFW, they would see that the UFW is actually not for immigration. It is ironic and hypocritical to keep quoting and portraying the current UFW leadership as pro-employee and pro-Latino.”
“I know I will never give up and I know that thousands of workers behind me will never give up.”
By Arnoldo S. Torres with the National Institute for Latino Policy
I want to focus on the imperative of altering the narrative set by this president and his supporters and proposing policies that are comprehensive, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of the nation. Regardless of any success or failure this year to pass any elements of immigration reform, I cannot underscore enough the urgency and importance for altering the false narrative.
Simultaneously it is imperative that Latinos prepare an immigration reform alternative that allows the public and policymakers to recognize a policy path that can be more effective and humane while protecting our border and internal security. We must not be ethnocentric but rather defy xenophobic nationalism, avoid isolation—not advocate an “open border” but be realistic, balanced, practical, and fair.
Politics have long reigned over policy on the reform of U.S. immigration law. This president’s actions and words over the last month cannot be better examples of this ugly and dangerous reality. In the past three weeks, the President ratcheted up his rhetoric on immigration at his Michigan rally. We also saw and heard in Michigan and before military audiences that despite there being more than 100 million Americans who can trace their history to Ellis Island, there are far too many who today stand in support of the very sentiments and “know-nothing” values that would have denied their ancestors entry to this nation. The words of fear, anger, and demagoguery sound so similar to what was said in the early 19th century when we experienced the most significant movement of immigrants to this nation from Europe.
Up to now, immigration advocates and Latino elected have responded in kind, defensively and with emotion. The liberal groups funding immigrant rights groups seem more interested in media coverage than creating a strategy that can overcome the political extremism that has evolved in the nation.
The false narrative around the causes and consequences of immigration has a clear intent: repeat it enough times that the public comes to believe that undocumented immigrants are criminals involved in trafficking drugs, who threaten the national security of this nation, advocate for open borders, do not reflect the “best” of their countries of origin, and live in sanctuary cities that are “breeding grounds” for criminals. This must change. It dictates and corrupts the substance and policy path for solutions.
Those advancing this image select anecdotal examples to bolster their mean, racist and xenophobic values. This president does this virtually every time he speaks to his base. Despite his demagoguery comments in Michigan and his threat to close down the federal government if he does not get funding for his border wall, even substantial numbers of evangelicals continue to support an agnostic, at best, in the name of the Lord!
Latinos, immigrant advocates, and liberal foundations spend most of their time responding and reacting, not initiating. This has always placed us in a defensive position while allowing false narratives to be circulated and take hold in the public’s mind and with policymakers.
Many who support these claims fail to come to terms with the facts that immigrants—legal, undocumented and refugees—at the turn of the century were engaged in organized crime in Jewish, Italian, Irish, and English immigrant communities. Many immigrants that came to the Island of Hope came from countries that fought against the U.S. in World War I and II.
In response to the constant hateful words, bully tactics and persecuting policies on immigration, we have allowed this behavior to infect our judgment. We have failed to recognize that all immigrants are not Jesus-like—we are human! We have imperfections, and many will do bad things that cause intended and unintended consequences to others. When these things have happened, we have not condemned such actions, we have, at best, ignored them for fear that we are giving into this narrative. In failing to denounce such acts we have contributed and strengthened this narrative.
Similarities of Yesterday and Today’s Immigrants
We must remind this nation that today’s immigrants and refugees have much in common with those at the turn of the century. Some efforts have been made to emphasize these points, but they are primarily secondary arguments in the national media.
Latino voices on this issue spend most of their time defending their concerns and aspirations for legalization by engaging in campaigns of embarrassing Republican and some Democrat elected officials. While many deserve it, this is a losing tactic which in most situations has merely served to satisfy the expectations and stereotypes applied to Latinos.
Immigrants yesterday and today have experienced many of the same “push factors” that caused them to make this most difficult journey. They arrive today for the same reasons some 12 million entered between 1892 and 1954. As an Italian immigrant is credited with saying, “If America did not exist, we would have had to invent it for the sake of our survival.” We share the same experiences of living in countries of origin that serve as a police state, suppress economic opportunities, deny education, and ignore the concepts of a democratic society. Contrary to the statements of immigration nationalists, people do not decide to journey to this nation because they want to be Democrats or Republicans. Freedom is what all seek!
Yesterday’s immigrants primarily came via boats in steerage class that government reports described as, “The unattended vomit of the seasick, the odors of the not-too-clean bodies, the reek of food, the awful stench of the nearby toilet rooms make the atmosphere in steerage such that it is a marvel that human flesh can endure it.”
Today’s immigrants must walk through deserts, hostile countries, risk life and limb on trains, pay thousands of dollars up-front and after they enter—if they enter—the U.S. They are profit centers for organized smuggling rings and transportation for illegal drugs. Many perish on this path because they are easily exploited and manipulated.
The descendants of past immigrants sit in harsh judgment of those fleeing the same situations their forefathers were fortunate to leave. They argue that their ancestors are different from today’s immigrants which is an ignorance ripe for the type of exploitation that has been growing since the 1980s and only getting worse with time. There is no better example of this ignorance and hovering xenophobic nationalism than the comment made by White House Chief of Staff and former General John Kelly, who stated that the majority of immigrants are “… not people that would easily assimilate into the U.S. … They don’t speak English … They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills.” This is almost precisely the very words used to describe the immigrants that came from Ireland, and all of Europe.
There are NO immigrant groups in this nation that have a perfect profile and behavior regardless of when they entered!
The Need for A Critical Analysis For Immigration Reform
By Arnoldo S. Torres with National Institute of Latino Policy
This is an analysis of the immigration debate and the responsibility Latinos must examine on the strategy and tactics applied and the corresponding consequences of these actions.
Now that DACA and the President’s immigration enforcement package have been placed on hold by Congress and the courts, all parties have some time to try and work out a short-term or long-term compromise. Latino and DACA “leaders” must step back and consider the strategy they have been following, its pros and what I believe are many cons. It is an arduous task they have taken on, and I respect and admire the determination, emotion, and commitment they have demonstrated to date.
However, the strategy they have been following has had little success on the bottom line, while having severe consequences. It’s great to be mentioned by Hollywood actors at the 90th Oscar Awards, but that does not provide the relief and fairness being sought and earned by hardworking people whose motivations are no different than those who migrated to the U.S. at the turn of the 19th century.
Over the last 17 years, Latinos have seen how fear and anger has manifested itself towards our U.S.-born and immigrant communities. Despite all who suffered (including many immigrants from many parts of the world) from the horrific and permanent scars caused by the attacks on September 11, 2001, we began to experience the unprecedented damage to our national psyche and identification. The door of anti-immigrant sentiment had been nudged open.
With the beginning of the presidential campaign in 2015, the door came off the hinges. We have been experiencing a level of intolerance, scapegoating, ignorance, nationalist xenophobia and racism most had not seen or felt before. Those of us who remember that these attitudes and behavior have long been a part of our history in this nation also remember the ugly experiences of our parents and grandparents. I cannot help but believe that fixing that damn door may not be possible after what we have been through the last seven years.
Latinos need to accept the reality that we have a fair share of responsibility for what has happened to us in this immigration dynamic. The perspective and analysis I offer do not come at an easy time nor will it be well received by many. However, I ask that you look beyond the political correctness lens that will surely be applied.
Some will say how dare I question what Latino advocates on immigration have been doing. I would respond how dare there is no dialogue or transparency of what has been going on for years with no tangible results! It is essential and imperative that all so-called “movements del pueblo, of conscious” have a critical analysis of their strategy, tactics, plans, and results.
It was Latino “Dreamers” who accepted the political argument and strategy that said, “These kids are not to blame for the actions of their parents who brought them to the U.S. illegally.” This political argument should never have been made, and the political strategy never followed. But liberal left and “progressive” foundations began to fund immigrant rights groups during the Obama years, and this was the argument and strategy followed to a tee. Democratic leaders went right along.
“Dreamers” were portrayed as being “Americans” who have and would contribute significantly to the nation because they were educated, had or were willing to serve in the military and their faces and pictures made for excellent optics. It was clear that the strategist behind this approach believed that these pictures and young faces would be hard to condemn. Another clear element in this self-defeating strategy was the confident feeling that Hilary would take care of all remaining undocumented family members.
This line of argument and thinking was dishonorable and unfair to the parent generation in the U.S. Parents who entered the US without papers did not do so to hurt their children. Their parents were seeking what parents all over the world want, economic survival and opportunity for their family. The parent generation of the “Dreamers,” like their parents before them, were recruited and encouraged to come to the U.S. by specific industries. Over time these industries became dependent on and preferred these immigrant workers over U.S.-born workers. In other words, Mexicans were not the cause of any displacement, the economic market and U.S.-born workers work ethic changed. This process formally and informally began during the first World War because of labor shortages.
These generations of undocumented immigrants have made exceptional contributions to this nation up until this very time in our history. They have labored hard in whatever jobs they secured, they have paid taxes, made sure their children did well in school so one day they would meet the criteria for the DACA program, they purchased homes, started small and medium businesses, took jobs that paid little and offered little protection or benefits but were indispensable to our economy, and seldom complained!
Shame on the Republicans who have portrayed these generations of hard-working people as welfare dependents, criminals, drug smugglers, or “not the best.” Shame on Democrats for speaking out of both sides of their mouths while playing politics with the desperation of vulnerable people, and hubris and inexperience of youth that found a voice. Shame on the liberal foundations and the Frank Sharrys (America’s Voice) in this network who were fighting other battles besides the one that was facing good people.
This unprecedented investment in the immigrant community has undoubtedly raised the profile of DACA recipients, helped fund the building of capacity and infrastructure of immigrant community advocacy groups. They indeed developed and gave voice to the individuals who became DACA leaders. However, these liberal/progressive institutions and their public faces contributed significantly to the strategy, talking points, and tactics that put exclusive focus and political capital on DACA recipients. DACA has pushed aside all the other immigration policy, domestic and international issues confronting the large Latino family that exists in the U.S.
I do not doubt that there is good faith and that there are many individuals on the left that are well motivated and committed. However, there should be no doubt that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This side of the political spectrum has a clear pattern of telling us what is in minorities’ best interest and how to get there. They may not see it as clearly as many of us have over decades, but do not doubt its existence, prevalence, and negative consequences.
The challenge Latinos and Dreamers must overcome is the inclination to place critical issues before us in only a political context. We seriously ignore the role policy has in deciding the future and moving the needle. I am not naïve enough to maintain that perfection should be the enemy of good, but I certainly hope I will not hear perfection should not be our motivation. Politics is not the engine that drives all things and cannot replace sound policy proposals that are opposed because they do not satisfy our bias or ignorance. Bad public policy makes for bad politics and presents intended and unintended consequences for the future. It is a dangerous habit to break, as evidenced by what Congress has been doing for far too long.
Disconnect Exists with Urban Politicians, Ruben Navarrette says
By Joanne Lui, Associate Editor
Ruben Navarrette grew up in the Central Valley and is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. California Ag Today caught up with him recently at an event in Fresno called the The Latino Paradox: Immigration Forum. He spoke about the RAISE Act S.354, which severely limits immigration into the U.S. because it would be based on education and skills.
“There’s this disconnect in Washington and New York … mostly urban areas where politicians don’t think much about agriculture, agribusiness,” Navarrette said. “They have no clue about where this fruit is coming from when they walk down the street in New York and they see an orange. They don’t understand how dangerous something like the RAISE Act would be if you ultimately limit the amount of people who come here based on education and skills.”
The RAISE Act will limit immigration from Latin American countries. Meanwhile, U.S.-born citizens don’t go out to work in the fields.
“I think there’s a lot of people who wrongly believe that American workers will do those jobs if the wages are high enough, and the way they tell the story [is] to make the agribusiness and the farmers into the bad guy,” Navarrette said. “If you know enough farmers and you go out into enough fields and you interview enough farmers and enough workers, you know that’s completely false. Farmers could be in business for 30 years and never in 30 years have they ever had an American come to them and say, ‘Can I pick peaches?’ ”
With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act (DACA), if dreamers are sent back, there are questions about what may happen with their parents.
“If they go back, the parents may ultimately self-deport as well and that’s going to be disruptive,” Navarrette said. “Clearly it’s a mistake for us to believe that sort of agriculture and DACA, they’re all separate from each other. The issues are all intertwined. When a farm worker is working in a field, he cares about whether the local police have the authority to detain him, if he’s pulled over. He cares because he has kids who are in the DACA Program, so farming isn’t necessarily segregated. The farm workers are piped into all these different issues.”
Manuel Cunha Jr. Fires Off Letter RE: Supreme Court Ruling on Immigration
The following is a letter that Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League sent out about the Supreme Court ruling on immigration TODAY:
“As the president of the Nisei Farmers League, board member of the National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C., chair of the Insure America Project, and as a farmer myself, I am deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling that was announced TODAY. Their ruling provided no guidance nor direction to this Congress and ignored the safety of those affected by the ruling.
The 4-4 deadlock leaves in place an appeals court ruling blocking President Obama’s immigration plan. His plan would have allowed parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for a program that would spare them from deportation and provide them with work permits.
Dignity, integrity and justice is what this country believes in and has made this country great. This country was built and strengthened by immigrants. Many of us today realize it was our parents and ancestors from other countries that brought us here. However, there are those that have forgotten, many of which are currently members of Congress.
This decision does not move us closer to immigration reform, but allows Congress to repeatedly refuse to support bipartisan legislation to update immigration laws. Congress continues to not deal with Immigration, but rather deal with their own party politics.
Millions of families will remain in limbo, and our system remains broken. The attention now turns to Senate and House Republicans to provide leadership on this issue. What is their solution to our broken immigration system? This escalates many of the problems that currently exist. Drug and human trafficking will continue, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids will not go away. Millions of immigrants living in the shadows is not the answer. Deportation of the people that clothe and feed us is shameful and not the answer.
We must remember that the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” DACA (Dreamers), is untouched. We need to focus on providing alternatives to the children who were brought here and have grown up here as Americans and identify themselves as Americans. The DACA program is still in play and we need to encourage those that are eligible to apply.”